Revelation 22:14

Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

Is there a conspiracy among Bible translators to change the biblical text? I didn’t think so until I read Revelation 22:14. More recent translations read “Blessed are those who wash their robes” instead of “Blessed are those who keep the commandments.” What do you think about these changes?

Most Bible translations are made by committees formed by specialists from different Jewish and Christian religious traditions. A conspiracy would require the different organizations sponsoring new Bible translations and each member of the translation committees to be in agreement concerning changing the content of the Bible. This is unrealistic. In fact, translations made by committees are usually much better than those made by a single individual or denomination.

The fact that you find readings not found in some of the older Bibles does not prove that there is a conspiracy. Each different reading must be evaluated on its own merits. Read several Bible commentaries before you reach your conclusion. Good commentaries will contain information concerning the different manuscripts and the textual and historical evidence concerning a particular reading. Let’s use Revelation 22:14 as a case study.

1. Textual Evidence: The different manuscripts provide the two main readings mentioned in your question. “Robes” is found in the earliest manuscripts available to us (fourth and fifth centuries A.D.) and several later manuscripts (e.g., eleventh and fifteenth centuries). The earliest manuscript supporting “commandments” is dated to the eighth century A.D., and preserved in many later manuscripts. However, there are references to Revelation 22:14 in Tertullian (145-220) and Cyprian (200-258) using the word “commandments” instead of “robes.” In other words, the textual evidence is divided. When all the evidence is taken into consideration one must acknowledge that its weight tends to support “robes.” The fact that Tertullian and Cyprian appear to have used a text in which the word “commandments” was used is significant but not necessarily decisive.

2. The Use of the Verb “Keep”: Since the textual evidence is not as strong as scholars would like it to be, they examine both readings of the text in terms of the use of the phrase in John’s writings. They observe that in Revelation 22:14 the verb translated “keep” is poieo (to do, to keep). But in Revelation 12:17 and 14:12, the other two places where keeping the commandments is mentioned, the verb used is tereo (to keep, observe, obey). This, it is argued, shows that John did not write “keep the commandments” in Revelation 22:14, because he had consistently used the verb tereo in the other passages. A scribe, perhaps unintentionally, changed the original text from “robes” to “commandments.” Both readings sound very similar in Greek. The stylistic argument is strong but not as strong as it sounds. John does tend to use the verb tereo when refer-ring to the commandments (e.g. 1 John 2:3, 4; 3:22, 24), but he also uses the verb poieo (1 John 5:2). Hence, the stylistic argument is not decisive either, though it leans slightly toward “wash their robes.”

3. The Theological Argument: It is also argued that the theology expressed in the reading “wash their robes” is compatible with the theology of John. The same phrase, “wash their robes,” is found in Revelation 7:14 to describe the redeemed ones standing before the throne of God. Their sins were washed away by the blood of the Lamb and not their obedience to the commandments. In Revelation 22:14 they have access to the tree of life because Christ washed their robes. Theologically this reading perfectly fits the theology of John. But we must not overlook the fact that “keep the commandments” could be referring to constant growth in grace or sanctification (the present tense of the verb suggests continuous action). The phrase “that they may have the right to the tree of life” expresses the reason for keeping the commandments: “Because they will have . . . ” rather than “in order to have access . . .”

Both readings of the text are plausible, but the evidence provides an edge to the reading “wash their robes.” This does not alter the fact that God expects His end-time people to keep His commandments (Rev. 12:17; 14:12). This is not a conspiracy but a sincere attempt to define the original reading of the text.